I love to use different materials in my work, but my primary medium of choice over time continues to be encaustic paint.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
It is fun to build texture
It has a translucent quality that gives a feeling of mystery.
While working and playing with it, I encounter unexpected results leading me to new discoveries and imagery.
It as a generous medium and gives the artist so many possibilities in its process.
It is made with the help of bees and trees...more on this below.
It has a beautiful smell.
It is an ancient technique.
There are so many ways to love this process.
I like to call it love paint.
The most common question that I am asked is, “What is encaustic?”
My quick answer is that encaustic medium is a mixture of beeswax and damar resin. When pigment is added it becomes paint.
The wax that I use comes from the honey bee and the damar resin is a sap harvested in fossilized form from the ground and tapped from the dipterocarpaceae trees found in India and East Asia.
My palette is an electric griddle set no higher than 225 degrees fahrenheit. I paint from small tins using molten encaustic paint. Most of my colour mixing happens on the surface of the painting.
Enkaustikos is a Greek word meaning “to burn in.” This action is evident as you fuse each layer to the one below with a torch or heat gun to assure that layers of paint become one.
My first encounter with encaustic painting was in the late 80's while I was studying art at university. As a student of studio art, while learning about art in art history I often became inspired by their process.
I discovered the work of Abstract Expressionist Jasper Johns in Modern Art History class and on field trips to Albright Knox in Buffalo, New York and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I was intrigued by the colour, texture and sensuous quality this medium brought to his work. It felt alive. It is a feeling that I knew I wanted to bring to my art.
I wasn’t aware of many resources on encaustic paint when I first tried adding oil paint to sculpting wax in the late 80s. (I don't recommend this) The internet had not yet developed as a resource and my instructors did not work in encaustic. At the time I was too impatient to do the research and figure it all out. My first attempts were ill informed but I loved using it.
My boyfriend’s dad was a beekeeper and I acquired a block of beeswax. I added oil paint to it, heated it up in a wok and poured it on the canvas. I don’t recall being concerned about temperature. I now know not to heat it beyond 225 fahrenheit and to use wooden substrates as canvas doesn’t provide adequate support causing the wax to crack.
When I left art school, I set encaustic and oil painting aside and moved to acrylic, building texture with modelling paste and paper collage. It was cleaner and seemed less toxic.
None if it though, offered the same sense of mystery and of being alive. I always felt like something was missing and I was having a hard time finding what I wanted through acrylic painting.
In 2007, I decided to return to encaustic paint and took a course with encaustic and mixed media artist Andrea Bird and brought wax, resin and pigment into my art once again. Andrea is also known as the grandmother of encaustic in Ontario. You can read this lovely interview by Ruth Maude in All Things Encaustic. I am grateful for all that Andrea has inspired and taught me about this beautiful medium.
There are so many ways to love it and I continue to learn.